OTTAWA – The Ottawa Senators haven’t quit on the season just yet, but general manager Bryan Murray won’t rule out selling off some of his assets before the trade deadline if it means giving the team a brighter outlook for next year.
“We’re obviously not where we want to be going forward,” Murray said Monday while discussing the Senators’ plans for the March 4 deadline. “I hope to go do a couple of other things, whether it’s just add prospects or draft picks.”
The Senators play host to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday and find themselves in 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings, 15 points out of a playoff spot with 24 games remaining.
It’ll take a minor miracle for Ottawa to keep its run of 11 straight post-season berths alive and Murray is turning his thoughts to the team’s future with trade talks heating up around the NHL.
On Friday, he acquired two pieces he’d spent much of the season looking for, a skilled forward and an offensive defenceman, when he sent centre Dean McAmmond and San Jose’s first pick in the upcoming draft to the New York Islanders to land Mike Comrie and blue-liner Chris Campoli.
While the Senators practised Monday, Murray said he wouldn’t stop there.
Although he won’t ask any of the players currently signed to long-term deals with no-trade agreements to waive them, it’s believed there are few players he won’t entertain offers for.
“Our performance this year has not allowed us to say there are any untouchables,” he said.
Jason Spezza, whose no-trade clause on the US$49-million, seven-year, extension he agreed to last year doesn’t kick in until this summer, would likely attract the most in return, although Murray side-stepped questions about the Senators star.
“He’s our No. 1 centre,” Murray said when asked about Spezza’s status, before adding, “I’m not going to get into specific names. I don’t think that’s fair, other than the guys who are unrestricted (free agents).”
That meant defenceman Filip Kuba and right-winger Chris Neil, who are both eligible to become unrestricted free agents July 1, are up for grabs as both camps are reportedly far apart on negotiations on returning to the Senators.
The 32-year-old Kuba is earning $3 million this season, while Neil, 29, is making $1.2 million.
“I get lots of calls, I make lots of calls. Through the week there will be a fair number of contacts with other managers,” Murray added. “The teams that are like me, on the borderline, will be talking about what we can do with the unrestricted guys.
“We’ll try not to let happen what’s happened with a couple of guys in the past. That is, go away in July for nothing.”
Kuba, the team’s top-scoring blue-liner with 28 points, does have a no-trade agreement and said Monday he hasn’t been asked to waive it yet. He only joined the Senators late in the summer from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“I got traded here, I was hoping that we had something good going here and I still want to do that, play hockey here,” Kuba said.
Neil is currently out with a lacerated calf and could begin skating later this week at the earliest, with a return to game action not expected until after the deadline, but Murray said it shouldn’t affect the gritty winger’s value on the market for teams looking to add toughness for the playoffs.
“Everyone knows what Chris Neil is,” Murray said.
Comrie, who’s earning $4 million this season, is also scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in the summer, leading many to question why Ottawa would re-acquire him after he was allowed to walk away as a free agent in 2007 and fuelling speculation that he could be part of a further deal, but Murray and Comrie both said Monday he’s likely to sign beyond this year.
“The discussion for the last while was if we brought him here, he would be very interested in staying,” Murray said.
Between the trade and the return of players from injury, such as Daniel Alfredsson, who made a quicker-than-expected comeback after sitting out one game because of a fractured jaw, Ottawa has too many bodies, so Murray said by the end of the week he’ll alleviate the problem either through demotion to the minors, waivers or trades.
Christoph Schubert, who plays both forward and defence, is also likely to leave. He’s been unhappy with his lack of playing time this season and hasn’t asked for a trade, but has held talks with Murray regarding his prospects.
“The trade deadline is coming up and my name is involved,” Schubert acknowledged Monday. “I don’t really want to get moved, but obviously I want to play some hockey games again.”